Page updated on 3/18/17.
Updated information and added new photos
Welcome to the Alternative Fueled Vehicles page! This page was originally going to be housed within the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus fleet page. However, since many transit districts throughout the world now use hybrid-electric/diesel buses, I thought I would create a dedicated page for these earth-friendly vehicles. Portions of this page are also dedicated to Compressed Natural Gas (or CNG) vehicles, by which HART is gradually converting to, as well as various zero emissions electric buses that gradually becoming more available to the public transit industry here in the US.
While not an alternative fuel, I do want to first talk about diesel-powered transit buses. Many older model transit buses utilize dirtier forms of diesel fuel that by which emit pretty nasty exhaust. Since 2008, many transit agencies have been moving towards cleaner forms of diesel fuels to help reduce the negative impacts that diesel exhaust has on the environment. Many transit bus manufacturers today. including Gillig, manufacture buses that are powered by clean diesel.
According to the Diesel Technology Forum…
Clean diesel is the new generation of diesel made up of a three-part system that combines cleaner diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective emissions control technology. This new system ensures that clean diesel engines will continue to play a dominant role in the future while helping meet energy security, greenhouse gas and clean air objectives around the world.
While there is no doubt that diesel powered transit vehicles will be around for a long time, clean diesel technology is making diesel powered transit vehicles run much better and cleaner than their older traditional diesel counterparts.
Now for the alternative fuels – Let’s first take a look at the hybrid-electric/diesel bus. These buses comprise of a traditional diesel-powered engine, coupled with an electric propulsion system. The electric component is a battery cell storage compartment that is housed on the roof of the bus. Both systems work with each other to help keep the bus moving along its route.
The Gillig Hybrid
I’m going to discuss primarily about the Gillig hybrid-electric/diesel bus in this section, since this is what HART, PSTA, MCAT, SCAT, HRT, and the Pittsburg Port Authority all use. The Gillig Hybrid bus development was started in the early 1990’s and was the result of years of research and testing which included field testing of many alternative fuel technologies (Methanol, Ethanol, Fumigated Ethanol, bio-diesel, CNG, LNG, LPG and Hydrogen fuel cells). The diesel hybrid was chosen as being the most promising new propulsion system with the fewest concerns and the most benefits.
The hybrid drive system is supplied by GM’s Allison Division, and uses the latest parallel drive technology which is more efficient than the traditional series systems. Long life, non-hazardous, and maintenance free NiMH batteries capture and store braking energy and advanced solid state controllers manage and blend power sources to optimize performance and efficiency.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit in Tampa, FL purchased three Gillig Low Floor hybrid buses in 2004. They sound just like their newer siblings because they utilize Allison transmissions, rather than their older siblings that are equipped with Voith transmissions. Originally, HART had intended to purchase more hybrids, but saw them as being too cost inhibitive, and instead opted to purchase CNG-powered vehicles. The three hybrids will eventually be retired, possibly as soon as later in 2017.
Ah yes! A fresh new coat of paint! As of February 22, 2010, all three hybrids are sporting the new blue & white livery. However, HART kept the blue sky montage on the roof until the district can come up with a new design.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in St. Petersburg, FL has a whole line of hybrid buses, called the SmartBus. PSTA began to add these 35 and 40-foot buses to its fleet in 2009, and as of 2015, roughly 30% of PSTA’s bus fleet is comprised of these awesome Gillig Low Floor hybrid buses, with some of them being trolleybuses and the remainder possessing the sleek BRT design.
Unlike HART’s hybrids, most of PSTA’s hybrids are powered by the BAE Systems’ HybriDrive system. Only the 2014 (14100-series) bus fleet is powered with Allison H 40 EP hybrid system.
Technological advancements in the BAE HybriDrive system have made buses run even more efficiently than their older counterparts. With the 2016 (16100-series) buses, the battery is in full operation while the bus is traveling below 25mph. Once the bus exceeds that speed, or if the battery depletes below 60%, the diesel engine will kick in and recharge the battery. Operators had to receive special training on these buses because when the bus is idle, the engine will make a vibrating noise as if it was shutting off. However, the bus is still running even when in idle. This advancement creates a much quieter ride than its older counterparts, even when the diesel engine is running.
Manatee County Area Transit in Bradenton, FL also possesses a fleet of sleek 35 and 40-foot Gillig Low Floor BRT design hybrid buses, also powered by the Allison H 40 EP system. MCAT added these buses to its fleet in 2009, with many of them being used along the joint MCAT/SCAT Route 99 (though they are sometimes assigned to other routes depending on demand).
Sarasota County Area Transit in Sarasota, FL also possesses a fleet of sleek Gillig Low Floor BRT design hybrid buses. SCAT added ten 35-foot buses in 2006, with four more added in 2009, and six in 2011 (three 30-foot and three 35-foot buses). All of the hybrids are powered by the Allison H 40 EP system.
Hampton Roads Transit in Norfolk, VA also possesses a fleet of sleek Gillig Low Floor BRT design hybrid buses. HRT began to add these buses to its fleet in 2008, with some of them being assigned to the seasonal Virginia Beach WAVE shuttle service,
some being used for the Route 17 Downtown Norfolk Loop, and some being deployed to other local bus routes throughout Hampton Roads. These buses are powered by the Allison H 40 EP system.
Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) Hybrid Buses
The RATP in Paris, France operates several different models of hybrid-electric/diesel buses, though some models are not widely used within the network. In recent years, some buses have been purchased by the regional transit operator, Syndicat des transports d’Île-de-France (or STIF). STIF buses are identifiable through their grey livery with the STIF logo on the side.
Below is a list of the makes and models of hybrid buses that the RATP operates, and how many of each model operate in revenue service. This list was compiled during the month of April/May, 2013, and comes from the website http://www.busiloe.fr/, which is in French.
- Heuliez GX317: 4
- Renault Agora: 1012
- Irisbus Agora line: 414
- Irisbus Citelis line: 884
- Irisbus Citelis 12: 474
- MAN NL 223: 205
- MAN Lion’s City: 121
- Mercedes Citaro: 68
- Mercedes Citaro facelift: 82
- Scania Omnicity: 221
- Renault/Irisbus Agora L: 209
- Irisbus Citelis 18: 156
- Irisbus Crealis 18: 2
- MAN Lion’s City G: 157
- MAN Lion’s City GL: 16
- Scania Omnicity: 11
- Heuliez GX427 Hybrid: 1
Now to some photos of the RATP buses. I’ll only distinguish between articulated and non-articulated buses for now, but I may be able to get a few more posted here soon. All photos listed in this sub-section are courtesy of Minato.
You might not see, let alone hear about, too many bio fueled transit buses here in Florida, but they do exist. In fact, here in Tampa Bay, the University of South Florida Tampa Campus shuttle system, the Bull Runner, has all of its transit vehicles powered by Biofuels.
Compressed Natural Gas is becoming a popular alternative to traditional and even clean diesel-powered buses. CNG utilizes Methane gasses that are stored at high pressure. Compared to diesel and propane (LPG), CNG emits fewer undesirable gasses and is safer than other fuels in an event of a spill (Source: Wikipedia).
Many transit agencies on the US West Coast, as well as in the New York City metro area, and throughout Europe use CNG-powered buses and/or Paratransit vans.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit in Tampa, FL currently has a fleet of 28 CNG-powered cutaway vans and 22 CNG-powered Gillig Low Floor transit buses. The cutaway vans entered revenue service during the course of 2014 and the transit buses are transitioning into revenue service at this time, replacing the aging 2001 and 2002 series buses. Depending on funding levels, more CNG-powered vehicles could be coming to HART in the coming years.
HART’s conversion to CNG-powered vehicles is all thanks to a $2.3 million dollar federal grant that was awarded to HART back in November, 2011, a CNG fueling station was constructed at the HART Operations Center on 21st Ave in Tampa during the course of 2013/14.
The Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) also has a fleet of Renault Agora CNG buses, as pictured here in Southwest Paris.
ZEPS (Complete Coach Works)
Switching gears now, let’s talk about the new Zero-Emissions Propulsion System (or ZEPS) bus. The ZEPS bus is a an all-electric bus that uses an electric engine and Lithium-Iron Phosphate batteries to power and operate the bus, which is very much different from hybrid-electric/diesel buses. The ZEPS bus project is being undertaken by Complete Coach Works (CCW) based out of Riverside, CA. One of the unique things about a ZEPS bus is that these buses are not swanky brand new buses that are just coming out of the manufacturing process. Rather, these are refurbished/rebuilt buses that are having their diesel components replaced by ZEPS components.
The first such transit bus to be able to hit the road is a a once-retired 1996 New Flyer Low Floor bus that was recently rebuilt with the new technology. This bus was recently tested out by the New York City MTA and is CCW’s prototype ZEPS bus. The second ZEPS bus to be produced is a 40-foot Gillig Low Floor bus that is owned by Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) in the Tri-Cities, WA area. This Gillig bus was delivered to BFT in May, 2013 and has been in regular revenue service since June, 2013. Now, I will have to admit, I’m pretty new at explaining everything about the ZEPS Electric Bus, so I’ll allow my fellow transit blogger Zac Ziegler explain more about this new bus and how it works. Please click the links below to read up on his blog posts.
- BFT Electric Bus Demonstration – 10/3/12
- More ZEPS Electric Buses On The Way? – 6/14/13
- BFT’s ZEPS Electric Bus Begins Service – 6/19/13
For technical details; click here to visit the CCW ZEPS bus page.
Another electric-powered bus that has recently hit the road in Washington state is called the Build Your Dreams (or BYD) E-Bus. This bus is similar to the ZEPS bus above, but utilizes different technologies. This bus is manufactured by BYD Motors, and has so far made rounds at the Spokane Transit Authority in Spokane, WA, and is now preparing to make rounds at Ben Franklin Transit in the Tri-Cities, WA area.
If you want to follow the progress of both the ZEPS and the BYD E-Bus, please check out the Transit 509 website, where Zac is periodically posting updates. You can also follow @Transit509 on Twitter.
During my trip to Tallahassee, FL in October of 2014, I discovered the Proterra Electric Bus. The city’s transit agency, Star Metro, has five of these buses in its fleet. Proterra was formed in 2004 and prides itself on manufacturing transit buses that are powered by alternative fuels, specifically…batteries. Yes, these buses are powered by batteries that are stored underneath the floor of the bus. The company is based out of Greenville, SC, with an office in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are currently nine other cities in the US that are testing the Proterra Electric Bus, including King County Metro Bus in Washington State. In May of 2015, Proterra brought a demo version of its newest transit bus, the Proterra Catalyst, to St. Petersburg, FL for a quick ride around the Gateway area.
In the last couple of years, New Flyer Industries – a powerhouse for heavy-duty transit buses in the US and Canada, introduced the battery electric variant of its highly successful Xcelsior brand of transit buses. Its demo bus has traveled to many US and Canadian cities and so far has signed on with Winnipeg Transit in Canada, and the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in the US. As of February, the Chicago CTA has been very satisfied with the two introductory units that they’ve been testing on their system and have announced that they will purchase more of them in the coming months. This news came on the heels of the New Flyer demo unit making rounds in the Miami-Dade area before spending a day with PSTA.
More to come soon!